A La Russe - A Cookbook of Russian Hospitality
By Darra Goldstein


The Russians are known for the lavish hospitality they extend to people invited into their homes. According to accounts, even in times of food shortages and rationing, visitors were favoured with feasts - accompanied by plenty of vodka, of course - that must have taken their hosts not just hours in the kitchen to prepare but also aeons spent in queues to buy the ingredients. Those unaccustomed to Russian hospitality would fill up on the zakuski, thinking these small bites were the whole meal, only to be led to the dining table, where the main course was being served.

Russian food has a long history - it's a mix of dishes popular with the various ethnic groups in the country - but it has also been influenced by French cuisine, by way of the tsars, the nobility and other people who could afford to hire French chefs. Russian scholar Darra Goldstein explains that a zakuski spread might include beluga caviar, Russian caviar (also known as poor man's caviar: the black seeds of the eggplant are said to resemble sturgeon eggs), stuffed eggs and marinated mushrooms, as well as salade Olivier and kidneys cooked in Madeira wine.

A La Russe contains all the recipes you'd expect: chicken kiev, borscht, eggplant caviar, coulibiac, beef stroganoff, pirozhki and apple charlotte, as well as more unusual dishes, including sturgeon soup with champagne, roast whole calf's liver, braised rabbit in sour cream, flounder with horseradish, Georgian cheese pie and Russian caramel torte.